TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Joel Stave stumbled as he kneeled, plopped the ball on the turf and hopped up like he had just completed a magic act.
The illusion left everyone confused.
Trying to set his team up for a game-winning field goal, Wisconsin’s quarterback instead triggered a wave of confusion that lingered long after Arizona State’s 32-30 win over the 20th-ranked Badgers Saturday night.
“I’ve seen some things tonight I haven’t seen,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said after the game.
Not many people have.
The final sequence was set up when Wisconsin, after forcing Arizona State to punt, got the ball at its own 17-yard line with 1:36 left. Trailing by two, the Badgers quickly moved down the field, reaching the Sun Devils’ 13 with 18 seconds left.
Hoping to set up kicker Kyle French in the middle of the field for a potential game-winning field goal, Wisconsin called for Stave run left from the right hash mark and take a knee, a play the Badgers had practiced numerous times.
But as Stave went to kneel, he was clipped by one of his lineman and went down a bit awkwardly as he emphatically placed the ball on the 15-yard line. Stave hopped up quickly and players from both teams stood around for a few seconds, trying to figure out what happened.
Stave checked with the referee to make sure the play was dead, but Arizona State’s players piled on the ball, thinking it was a fumble. Realizing the clock was still running, the Badgers tried to line up with 2 seconds left to spike the ball, but couldn’t get a play off in time.
After gathering briefly on the field, the officials trotted off past Stave, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen and the rest of the stunned Badgers.
“It was a shame it went down the way it went down at the end and that’s really all I want to say about it,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. “It is a shame it went down that way. We (kneel) with 15 seconds left and never even got a chance to snap it again. I don’t know how that happens.”
The play appeared to be called correctly.
It’s what happened after that may be called into question.
Though the Sun Devils thought Stave’s knee never hit the ground, replays showed it briefly touching the turf. The officials saw it and pointed to the ground to signal the play was dead, but Arizona State’s players thought it was a fumble and frantically dove on the ball, costing Wisconsin precious seconds.
Even after the Sun Devils were pulled off the ball, one of the officials briefly held the Badgers at the line of scrimmage before they could snap the ball, costing them even more time.
After the play, Stave tried to grab one of the officials running off the field, but he kept going, and Andersen said he got no response after asking for an explanation.
“I don’t know where it goes,” Andersen said. “We’ll just have to see. I’d like to get an explanation. I wish I could have got one out there but I didn’t.”
College football has seen its share of strange finishes.
In 1990, Colorado beat Missouri in the “Fifth Down Game,” scoring the winning touchdown after the officials didn’t notice the down markers on the sidelines hadn’t been changed and allowed the Buffaloes an extra play after they spiked the ball on fourth down.
Appalachian State won a bizarre one in 2002, using an interception on a 2-point conversion and a lateral on the return to beat Furman 16-15.
The most famous and bizarre finish came in the Big Game between Stanford and California in 1982, when the Bears had five laterals and a run through Stanford’s band into the end zone for the winning score on the final kickoff.
The finish between Wisconsin and Arizona State may not rank up there with The Play, but it was certainly bizarre.
“It was frantic,” Arizona State cornerback Osahon Irabor said. “I’ve never seen anything like that in college football. I definitely haven’t played in a game like that. Luck was on our side. I’ll take it. We’ll take it any way we can get it. Sloppy, ugly, beautiful — it doesn’t matter.”
Even if it was a little confusing.